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Syria

UN refugee chief: Syria refugees could triple

The UN refugee chief has warned that the number of Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war could triple by the end of the year. Currently, there are one million refugees who have fled Syria for neighboring countries.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres called on Sunday for the international community to work toward ending Syria's civil war, or face “the risk of an explosion” in the already volatile Middle East.

“If this escalation goes on, we will have – and nothing happens to solve the problem – we might have in the end of the year a much larger number of refugees, two or three times the present level,” Guterres told reporters in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

On Wednesday, the UN's refugee agency officially registered the 1-millionth refugee to flee the fighting in Syria. Most Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan, which is currently hosting 400,000 Syrians. Lebanon has more than 300,000 refugees and Turkey has counted 185,000.

There are also 2 million internally displaced persons and 4 million people who need humanitarian assistance inside Syria. The UN estimates that 70,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011.

Fighting in Homs

Syrian rebels on Sunday launched a surprise attack on the Baba Amr district of Homs, according to opposition activists. During the spring of 2012, Baba Amr was the site of a month-long siege by Syrian government forces, who managed to wrest control of the district from rebels.

“At dawn, the rebels launched a surprise attack on Baba Amr, which they have entered,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group with links to the opposition. The Observatory also said that 14 people were killed by an airstrike in the city of Raqqa on Saturday.

Syrian rebels captured Raqqa, the capital of Raqqa province, early in the week. It is the first provincial capital to fall into opposition hands.

Meanwhile, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) - and umbrella opposition group – has postponed the election of a provisional prime minister, according to Reuters news agency. The vote was scheduled for March 12, but has been moved to March 20.

slk/dr (AP, AFP, Reuters)